Mitch McConnell spoke last Friday to an annual evangelical-based conference for “voters of faith,” at which he was quoted as saying the following:
In my view, the last 16 months have been the single best period for conservative values since I came to Washington.
Let’s leave aside the dubious “conservative values” of a thrice-married President who boasts of grabbing women’s genitals and who lies whenever his lips move. Instead, let’s look at the policies that have been put in place, either legislatively or through executive branch action, during the past sixteen months.
(I would have begun with McConnell’s own successful effort to trash the Constitution’s requirement that the Senate “advise and consent” to Presidential Supreme Court appointments, but that occurred outside the sixteen-month window.)
Back when I was a Republican, “conservative values” began with fiscal prudence and a discomfort with debt. Passage of a tax bill that adds trillions of dollars to the national debt in order to reward the wealthy doesn’t fall within the definition of fiscal prudence.
While the Grand Old Party has always included an undercurrent of bigotry (an undercurrent from which Democrats weren’t exempt), after William F. Buckley and other intellectuals made the case that the Birchers and anti-Semites and their ilk should be banished from influence, candidates who still wanted to appeal to that constituency did so through “dog whistles.” This Administration and a growing number of Republican candidates have abandoned that presumed “subtlety” for full-throated racism and misogyny. (Is David Duke’s support of Trump and Trumpism evidence of “conservative values”?)
I also remember respect for law and order being central to conservatism. Is Trump’s wholly unjustified attack on the FBI–not to mention the rule of law– part of that triumph of conservative values?
And how about family values? Granted, the phrase was usually a cover for some pretty discriminatory attitudes, but to the extent that the GOP and conservatives truly believe in the sanctity of marriage and the value of motherhood, how do those beliefs square with the practice of ripping children out of their mothers’ arms at the border? (As several people have pointed out, these families are making perfectly legal applications for refugee status; they aren’t sneaking across the border.)
Evangelical conservatives have always been leery of science, but secular conservatives and those who worship at less fundamentalist churches have valued education and scientific knowledge. The current Administration and GOP legislators reject evolution, dismiss climate science and refuse to take scientific advice on other topics.
Conservatives have previously been steadfast in their support of free markets. Trump has consistently attacked free trade, and has now imposed economically-damaging tariffs (on our friends!) that are likely to start a trade war. McConnell’s “conservatives” have remained mute.
And what about the time-honored conservative value of a strong national defense? Republican legislators have been complicit as Trump has damaged relations with our allies, trashed NATO, cozied up to some of the world’s worst dictators, ignored warnings from America’s Intelligence agencies and appeared to be Vladimir Putin’s lap-dog.
Genuine conservatives value traditional standards of behavior and order. They believe in conserving the rules that have served us in the past. Liberals may disagree with conservatives about the proper role of government or the choice of rules to conserve, but those are principled differences of opinion between principled individuals whose values differ.
I don’t know what to call the “values” of the people running this country right now, assuming they have any, but whatever they are, they are neither conservative nor liberal. To coin a phrase, they’re deplorable.